Up until this point of my run-through of Doctor Who, I haven’t come across a story that I didn’t particularly want to watch. Yes, it’s true that I’ve criticised some of the stories I’ve reviewed quite heavily, but I was still happy to watch them.
Not The Claws of Axos though. The Claws of Axos is shit.
It’s the first story in the run where I think ‘I wish I could skip this’. It’ll happen more and more as the series progresses (it pains me that in the near future I’ll have to watch turgid dross like Underworld, Warriors Gate – ooooh controversial – Time Flight and Terminus) but in a sound era of the show like the Pertwee era, it’s like a blackout curtain in amongst a palace of light.
But a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.
Doctor Who – The Claws of Axos Review: What’s This One About
In principle it’s actually not that bad a story. An alien space ship lands in Southern England near a massive power station. Representatives of the British Government meet with the aliens – The Axons – who offer a precious mineral –
Axonite – that apparently can make things grow and thus solve world food shortages etc. In return all they ask is to be able to refuel before they leave.
In truth though, the Axons are parasites who want to use Axonite to rape the world of its energy and minerals before leaving.
Oh, and the Master is helping them.
And there’s a representative of the American government there who wants to arrest him.
Thoughts – Let’s Start With The Characters
So in theory it doesn’t sound that bad, but in execution…
For a start you have Chinn, the Civil Servant who wants to claim Axonite for the British. Now, the guy who played Chinn – Peter Bathurst – was probably good in stuff like Father, Dear Father and Doctor at Large, and had he not died in 1973 you could have imagined him being a decent enough addition to shows like Terry & June and Rentaghost, but he’s absolutely not suited for Doctor Who.
There have been more comedic actors who have done a great turn in the show, like Derek Francis as Nero in The Romans, but you wouldn’t put Francis smack bang in the middle of the Caves of Androzani, would you?
In context he’s just all wrong. When people are being electrocuted trying to stop a nuclear power station from blowing up, and UNIT soldiers are being murdered in battle, he’s going about eating sandwiches and saying he was in catering. It’s just awful.
And so is Paul Grist, who plays ‘The All American Hero’, Bill Filer.
If you load up Grist on IMDB the ‘Trivia’ for him is that he is a ‘Welsh Actor Based in the UK in the sixties and the seventies’. So he’s not American? Never?!!?
My understanding is that an American character was put into it to make it easier to sell the show in foreign countries like…erm…America. But he was neither convincing, nor likeable. And also, he was just…there. Like we’re supposed to know who he is and feel some deep level of empathy towards him. Well we don’t.
And then there is David Savile, who you’ll remember from his well acted and well written role as Lt. Carstairs in the War Games. Here he’s terrible. His acting seems so forced and clumsy as he tries to be a combination of arrogant and angry. It doesn’t work. You just cheer when he’s killed.
And What About The Story?
The story is also poorly written.
Bob Baker & Dave Martin make their Doctor Who debuts here. None of the stories they are responsible for are particularly good. Granted they aren’t all bad, but they are responsible for writing the worst story of every Doctor Who series they write for, with one exception (I quite like the Invisible Enemy).
The problem is that it just jumps straight in without any sort of introduction. Some people might think that’s quite good, but I don’t. I’ve read someone say that it’s written like a comic strip, and that’s actually a very good comparison.
There are too many characters who we’re supposed to care about but we don’t. And we don’t because we aren’t given reason to.
And the use of the Master is stupid as well. At the end of the Mind of Evil we have the whole ‘Oh no, the Master has his dimensional circuit back, and he’s leaving Earth to terrorise other planets’ deal and then they don’t even give the character one single week off the screen. He’s just back again. In fairness, that’s a problem that lies at the doorstep of Dicks & Letts though.
And as for Pigbin Josh. Just…I’m not sure if I can come up with the words. I don’t know if I even need to.
As I’ve said before, when people talk dismissively about ‘classic’ Dr Who, they talk about the poor quality of the sets and the costumes, and 90% of the time they are dead wrong in my opinion. But this is one of the 10% examples. The
problem is that they try to create a properly alien entity like Axos on a very limited budget. It might have worked in black and white – like it did to an extent in the Web Planet – but in colour it becomes harder to achieve.
And so while the raw state Axon costume is good, the Humanoid Axons are people wearing cheap looking unitards and Axos itself is a horribly cheap looking set with foam things painted a sort of browny-orange. And that eye…my god, it’s like something out of a school play.
But Worst of All…
Worst of all here is the direction.
There’s an argument to be made that direction is like art – the beauty of it is in the eye of the beholder.
Well as far as this beholder is concerned, I have never seen direction uglier than in the Claws of Axos. It’s actually unpleasant to watch.
There’s a scene in Episode 1 where Chinn introduces George Hardiman & Winser to the UNIT people and it has the clumsiest and most unnecessary camera switches in history. This director seems to think here that it’s all about rapid close-up shots of people’s’ faces.
Then he cuts in and out of scenes for absolutely no good reason. We’ll be watching a conversation between a couple of characters in a lab and then suddenly cut to a 2 second shot of Jo Grant standing outside looking straight into the
camera, and then back to the lab where the conversation continues. It doesn’t work. It’s like extremely sloppy subliminal messaging.
It ruins further what is already a poor production.
Horrendous and Hideous.
And the thing is, Michael Ferguson was responsible for directing some good stories like The War Machines, The Seeds of Death and The Ambassadors of Death. How could he suddenly become quite so bad?
But In Fairness…
But in fairness it’s not ALL bad. Once again, Roger Delgado is fantastic as the Master. I really enjoy his scenes helping the UNIT soldiers and working with the Doctor.
The story itself does seem to calm down and become somewhat easier to follow midway through the third episode as well.
And unlike the stories that have come before it, the cliffhangers are actually quite good.
But still, the bad vastly outweigh the good.
- In one Doctor Who Past Doctor Adventure book, the enemy turns out to be the soldier who is attacked outside the Power Station and becomes embittered against the Doctor. And I can’t remember what book this is? Can anyone help?
- It would make a lot more sense if this story came after the Colony in Space, don’t you think?
Doctor Who – The Claws of Axos Review: Final Thoughts
It’s rubbish. If it wasn’t for Roger Delgado’s performance it would be a contender for my least favourite story ever.
Nothing seems to go right. The characters are either poorly played or poorly cast, the concept is too ambitious for the budget, the direction is poor and the story itself is mediocre at best.
Even though the cliffhangers are alright and it becomes a bit more easy to follow towards the end, that’s not enough to even come close to saving it.
The Claws of Axos is without question one to avoid.